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Thread: Coalition Warfare at the Tactical level and the consequences of cultural disconnects

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    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    Default Coalition Warfare at the Tactical level and the consequences of cultural disconnects

    I was kind of undecided about which thread to post this under (either this one or FID) since its about cultural observations I made while as an advisor. I'd originally sent it to Dave for the blog but because we see different audiences and levels of participation between the blog and the SWC, I wanted to put it up here as well. As always, I hope it'll start some discussion in a number of areas, and inform in a general sort of way that allows for broader application for those going out to do this job, or something like it.
    Best, Rob

    With a great deal of discussion on enabling partner capacity, and the possibility that this mission will increase in scope and importance to our broader strategy in the “Long War” of the decades ahead, I wanted to go through some anecdotes and observations to discuss what might be called coalition warfare at the tactical level. I think this is important because it highlights how cultural dissonance can have tactical and potentially operational and strategic effects – particularly when our current and future partners are judged solely by us on our standards, without considering the context of the operational environment from their perspective. While many on the Small Wars Council have heard me discuss some of these under the FID section (or related threads) of the SWC, I have not attempted to bring them together to discuss the implications for a broader strategy where US GPF would take on this mission on a larger scale to meet evolving policy goals. A SF buddy of mine and I were discussing the challenges of acknowledging the differences present in other military cultures while reconciling them with our own values and ethos so that the mission is completed while not compromising our own values – its not easy.
    I’ll preface these anecdotes and observations by saying that some things only make sense within the context in which they occurred - so it is difficult to imagine them in training, or while considering strategy - I often joke that there are some things which only make sense in Iraq, but I believe that is true of anywhere where fear, honor, interest, charity and emotion play out everyday on such dramatic scale - it is what makes war unique. In reading these, you also have to understand that in some places war is a constant fact of life – it never fully disappears. I mention that because for the peoples of those lands unfortunate to wake up and go to sleep in war their entire lives, they find humor and respite where possible. It took me awhile to discover and acknowledge this and longer to understand what it meant. Whatever shortfalls or criticism might be attributed to the indigenous forces, it might be wise to first consider what its like to walk a mile in their shoes.
    There are some anecdotes which I’ll skip such as “how pay is done and why”; or “why the leave policy is what it is” – many of these have been brought up in other forums, and is now formally acknowledged in many of our advisor training programs. Suffice to say it is different, and there are reasons why indigenous forces don’t do everything like we do. The anecdotes that I do provide are meant to provide food for thought as we do more and more work with forces other then our own, some will have examples similar, and some not so much so as ever changing conditions coupled with the depth you are willing to involve yourself and consider what you see and hear provide opportunities to bridge cultural gaps. I went through some of my more vivid memories to pull out seven cases that I hope will provide ideas and spark discussion on how this type of cultural friction might be addressed. It is not always easy to convey the context of the situation in which the event occurred, there are always a host of competing events and distractions which impact behavior. I mention that because few things rarely occur in quite the same way with the same results, particularly in something as complex as war. What I hope is that these anecdotes and observations will explain that there is a range of cultural difference when working with foreign forces in a complex environment and that it requires some cultural flexibility on our part to get the most out of the partnership. These anecdotes and observations are not presented in any particular order or sequence, and that is because these are typical of what you might experience in any given week, month or deployment. If you have specific questions you can PM me through the SWC site.

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    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    Default Another annecdote that MarcT requested

    MarcT had asked me to do up one more anecdote on something the Iraqis knew intuitively based on their understanding of their environment – in this case it was an understanding of the enemy and time.

    Anecdote #8: A BN IA patrol returning from a Joint / Combined Targeting meeting with IP and the U.S. TF had an automobile accident at an intersection. The occupants of the vehicle turned out to be high ranking AIF belonging to a large IED cell. The 2 AIF thought the contact was on purpose and attempted to shoot their way out and flee. The IA quickly killed one and wounded the other (light injuries which allowed him to be secured and questioned). It seems the two men had been at their own meeting and were just trying to appear normal (2 men in a nice VW vs. 3 or 4 in an Opal). The IA quickly generated raids across the BDE’s AOR and rolled up a sizable portion of the AIF cell and its IED materials – IED activity dropped off significantly for a couple of weeks - which allowed the ISF and U.S. forces greater freedom of movement and an increase in the initiative.

    Observation #8: What the IA understood was that time was against them – that just like our own small unit leaders leave contingency plans (the venerable GOTWA that tells subordinates – (G) where I'm Going, (O) Others I'm taking, (T) Time of my return, (W) What to do if I don't return, (A) Actions to take if I'm hit or Actions to take if you're hit (5 point contingency plan)- the AIF cell leaders did the same. So if they did not turn the information they exploited quickly then it was likely they would find a clean house by the time they made the raid. While we are often required to meet certain conditions prior to executing a raid in terms of interpreters, air support, imagery, additional assets and coordination – the IA were able to exploit speed and surprise, turning missions within an hour and catching the AIF flatfooted. This is not a ding on us – we have our own strengths and would find it difficult to adopt their TTP – but it does speak to understanding your allies strengths and weaknesses and seeking tactical cooperation that maximizes your’s and his strengths, while minimizing weaknesses inherent in both. We were able to help our U.S. partner unit and the IA understand this – and one it clicked they were pretty much on track.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob Thornton View Post
    I was kind of undecided about which thread to post this under (either this one or FID) since its about cultural observations I made while as an advisor. I'd originally sent it to Dave for the blog but because we see different audiences and levels of participation between the blog and the SWC, I wanted to put it up here as well. As always, I hope it'll start some discussion in a number of areas, and inform in a general sort of way that allows for broader application for those going out to do this job, or something like it.
    Great stuff, Rob--thanks for posting it.

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Thumbs up Great piece, Rob.

    Having worked as an Advisor to a Viet Namese Battalion and as an ops advisor to the old Imperial Iranian Army, I agree with your conclusions and the anecdotes brought several grins to my face...

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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Hi Rob,

    Great anecdote! Thanks for posting it. I've been thinking about your piece for a while now (since my last comments), and I think that one of the key differences lies in the warrior ethos (vs. a soldiers ethos). This isn't to say that the two can't be combined, but I suspect that the warrior ethos dominates in the Iraqi mindset. Just out of interest, after successful IA raids, did the people taking part in them talk about it in the first person - I vs We?

    Marc
    Sic Bisquitus Disintegrat...
    Marc W.D. Tyrrell, Ph.D.
    Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies,
    Senior Research Fellow,
    The Canadian Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies, NPSIA
    Carleton University
    http://marctyrrell.com/

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    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    Marc,
    Its difficult because once you engage through an interpreter you get their interpretation. However, the BN S3 did speak english and he would generally say " my soldiers did this" or "the patrol, they do this".
    I think there was some "we" and there was some "I" in the interpreters' responses - this may have also been skewed by how I asked the question(s) and which interpreter I used (not all are as capable - or as familiar).
    If I had to strike a balance I would say that when referring to a "we" it was more along the lines of the patrol vs. a company or BN - this reflects how they operate - and maybe why I reflected that in the org chart I did up on "building Indig Sec Forces" in VOL 8 - I just did not fully realize why I did it until now - interesting.
    Best, Rob

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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Hi Rob,

    Thanks. The I - We split tends to indicate a whole slew of different things, which is why I was wondering how they described the actions.

    Marc
    Sic Bisquitus Disintegrat...
    Marc W.D. Tyrrell, Ph.D.
    Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies,
    Senior Research Fellow,
    The Canadian Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies, NPSIA
    Carleton University
    http://marctyrrell.com/

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    Council Member Armchairguy's Avatar
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    Default News story on CNN

    This has nothing to do with your great anecdotes Rob, but it seemed that this was a story that you'd love. An Iraqi officer and his troops gave a check for $1000 to help out Americans hurt by the California wildfires. Choked me up a bit.

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    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    ACG - Thanks - I'll see if I can dig the story up - I appreciate you bringing it up. Best, Rob

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